Label: Know It All Entertainment
Rating: 6 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Spokane, Washington St, USA. Hardly a hotbed of Hiphop talent, and yet through an endless list of performances at local venues, college parties and cameo appearances with another local act Elderstaar, Andrew Walters AKA Locke has slowly built up enough of a rep to make it viable both artistically, and financially to put out his own album “Relevance.” This debut outing comes after his appearance on the “Night Owls” compilation on Syntax Records alongside well-know underground faces LA Symphony and Mars Ill, and is a culmination of his efforts to put himself and his area on the Hiphop map.
An effective combination of jazz piano and uncomplicated drum patterns kick off ‘Clear Signal’ and the album in general. Complimented by DJ Parafyn cutting up LL Cool J vocals, Locke sounds quietly confident, and totally at ease with the backing track. My only complaint is that there’s little to break up his flow, and some people may be turned off by his slightly monotone style. You wanna comparison? Think Evidence from Dilated, without the annoying nasal tones, and with a little more substance. Got it? Good.
Next track, ‘Like It Or Not’ introduces some rare groove loops into the mix – very seventies porn film / detective flick indeed, with some incredible horns on the hook that just set things off perfectly. This is followed by ‘Only A Moment Away’, and as the summery guitar licks mesh with the uptempo snares, it becomes clear that this album is really all about Locke experimenting with various styles and influences. Here, Locke trades lines with Braille, who probably injects a little more life into his flow as he spits, but ultimately both are overshadowing by the incredibly funky guitar break.
The album and the audio experimentation continue with ‘Aversion (Press Pause)’, which somehow sounds strangely familiar – I can’t put my finger on it at all, but I get the strange feeling I’ve heard this before. Things kick off with a soothing synth interspersed with the sound of running water, giving the track an organic feel, before a cut up Common sample heralds the introduction of a stripped down beat which Locke rides perfectly. Its a very personal, introspective track, and the emotion on the chorus is evident as it pours out of the speakers.
The next couple of tracks take things back to a more simplified Hiphop blueprint. ‘Round The Clock’ is built around a funky four-note jazz organ sample, and the uncomplicated structure of this beat allows Locke’s lyrics to come to the fore a little more, as he tells the tale of how he sees his position in life as an emcee, and how others relate to him. Dropping immediately after, is the superb ‘Objects Of The Senses’, the first track to really bring the boom-bap into proceedings. Locke shares mic time with Smoke and Ohmega Watts, with the latter also responsible for the heavy production, which brings a little bit of NY Hiphop essence to Spokane.
The second portion of the album continues in a similar vein to the first, with Locke dipping his toes into many different style pools. I think half of this is due to the fact that he may still be searching for a style of beat that he really feels comfortable with, and half due to the fact that he wants to provide a series of varied sounds and tracks to the listener. Hence, ‘Forgotten Laughter’ features another amazing layer of pianos and strings, which truly do work perfectly together, while ‘It’s Like That’ tips its hat to old blues tracks with producer Dave Kelly sprinkling incredibly addictive electric guitar loops all the place resulting in a track that sounds astonishingly similar to Kool G Rap’s ‘Ill Street Blues.’
Sandwiched between these are ‘Status Quo’, which owes a huge debt to classical music with its Beethoven-esuqe piano solo, ‘Every Time’ a slightly bland Nickels-produced track which features Sleep and Othello, and smacks of Arrested Development-itis, and which is hugely overshadowed by his production of the next track, ‘Ancient Truths.’ Here, a cacophony of static and feedback do battle with spooky sirens and heavy snares. Unfortunately it also succeeds in overshadowing Locke’s lyrics which are a little too low in the mix.
Overall, Locke’s debut is an interesting if slightly flawed one. There’s no question that most of the beats here are of a very high calibre – the problem is that Locke’s monotone flow isn’t really suited to all of them. There’s a reason why Guru works well with DJ Premier when they hook up as Gang Starr – it explains why you’ll never hear him rhyming over west coast funk breaks… its mostly the voice. In this reviewer’s opinion, Locke needs to find out exactly what style of beats suit him best, and polish and refine his flow over these, before attempting to switch things up a little. This is by no means a poor album, but it just lacks that little something extra to hold your attention for more than a few spins.